WORDS BY JOSEPH FURNESS
Elle B. Mambetov is a fashion designer, boutique owner, FARFETCH partner, author, activist and a proud Black Muslim woman. Her mission? To create a space in the industry for people like herself.
Initially, Mambetov set up her brand to expand the modest-wear options available in the high-fashion sphere. Having converted to Islam just a few years ago, she was keen to find ways to reflect her personality and concurrently respect her religion. Now, she provides people from a multitude of backgrounds with rich, colourful pieces, via her vibrant LA boutique and on FARFETCH.
To mark the month of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar, we spoke to Mambetov about the looks she has in mind to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, her latest high-fashion purchases, the future of modest fashion and more.
What inspired you to become a designer and launch your boutique?
There have been many phases to my design journey. I’ve known I wanted to be part of the fashion industry since I was a child – I asked for a sewing machine for my seventh birthday, and I spent the best part of my childhood and teenage years dreaming about my own fashion collection. For a long time I was part of the industry, but one day I had an epiphany: I was just a cog in the machine.
Now, I’m proud and happy to announce that I design for myself. I create clothes that reflect my own aesthetic and I run a boutique that reflects my style and personality.
Why did you choose to set up your store in Beverly Center, Los Angeles?
Choosing a retail partner is just as important as choosing a business partner. The Beverly Center isn’t just a retail destination: it’s a welcoming space where the Elle B. Zhou boutique can come alive. My favourite things about the store are the brightly colored walls, modestly dressed mannequins and the accent pillar towards the front, which is adorned with Arabic calligraphy.
How do you use fashion as a creative outlet?
I've always used fashion to express myself; so much so that I stuck out like a sore thumb whilst growing up in Texas. Needless to say, some people back then just didn’t get me.
I may have recently converted to Islam, but I still view fashion as a way to express myself. In many ways, fashion has helped me feel more comfortable about being a Muslim and discovering the world of my new religion. I love using fun colors and sparkle to feel closer to my religion, especially in terms of maintaining my hijab.
How have you navigated the luxury fashion industry as a newly converted Muslim?
I set out to create vibrant and colorful pieces, which are inclusive of all people, including people like me. I certainly didn’t anticipate my clothes being as universally well-received as they have been. I always remain true to myself, my vision and my religion.
I think it’s easy to make excuses as to why the luxury fashion industry hasn’t accepted change [when it comes to modest-wear] before, but we have to be determined and break through. I promise there are retailers out there that are willing to listen and open to change.
I remember the first conference call between my team and FARFETCH. I explained – pretty nervously, to be honest – that there was a lack of modest-wear pieces on the site, suitable for someone like me. Fortunately, FARFETCH is a platform that is willing to listen and embrace change. Modest fashion has a bright future if we dare to speak up, be bold and create.
What are your top tips for styling that’s both modest and glamorous?
My best piece of advice is to let your creativity run wild. Just go for it! There’s nothing that I don’t wear now that I didn’t before! Ostrich feathers; sequins; double denim; asymmetric skirts – you name it, I layer it!
I especially enjoy having fun with my hijab. For example, I have a lace hijab that’s very chic and elegant. I also have hijabs that I’ve enhanced myself, including one adorned with feathers and one with gold chains. Can you tell that I was an arts and crafts kid?
What are your favourite pieces from the new Elle B. Zhou collection?
I absolutely love my FARFETCH exclusive pieces – they’re all so dreamy! The print is something that means a lot to me, to such an extent that I’ve carried it into the theme of my new boutique.
Tell us about a luxury fashion piece that works with your style.
I'm always looking for pieces that complement my collections. I recently purchased a black Prada headband that I’m absolutely obsessed with – it makes me feel like a princess! Having said that, it also reminds me of Charlize Theron’s role as Queen in Snow White and The Huntsman when I wear it over my black pearl-embellished tulle hijab.
What do you plan to wear for Eid al-Fitr?
I'm actually in the midst of figuring that out. My plan is to have options! Eid al-Fitr is such a big deal this year as we weren’t allowed to go to the Mosque in 2020 due to the pandemic. This year, I’m looking to make a memorable comeback!
I'm thinking of wearing a Khoon Hooi yellow-bow dress that we stock; making it modest by layering it over an SS21 Elle B. Zhou top and pairing it with Malone Souliers shoes. Alternatively, I might wear an Elle B. Zhou dress under something beaded and embroidered by Kojak Studio. Whatever I decide on, I’ll be sure to accessorise the look with jewellery.
Finally, can you talk us through the design process behind your crockery collection?
When we first moved downtown (around the time I converted to Islam), I ordered a batch of designer plates that featured prominent faces. This was a huge mistake as it’s said in Islam that angels won’t enter your home if there are images of faces inside. So, I returned the plates and looked everywhere for faceless designs that sparked joy instead.
Whilst researching, I came across Look At Me Plates and subsequently met with the brand’s founder, Magda Pilaczyńska. From that moment, I knew we’d create something special together.
I'm so proud of my Look At Me Plates collaborative crockery collection – I think it’s beautiful and works for any interior design style. I also have huge appreciation for Magda, who sincerely respects my vision and religion.
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